White Spaces Project Micrsoft Spectrum

[Update: A previous version of this article stated that the Airband Initiative would reach a further 1 million people by 2020. This was incorrect. The project will roll out to 25 states by December 2019 but will reach 3 million by 2022. The article has been updated to reflect this change.]

Microsoft is expanding its rural broadband initiative after early rollouts have proven successful. By Utilizing TV whitespace, Rural Airband looks to bring high-speed internet to underserved areas in the U.S.

The company’s initial plan was to reach 2 million people by 2022, but Microsoft President Brad Smith says that’s now looking conservative. According to the executive, the project is running ahead of schedule and should be available to 3 million people in that time period.

“By this time next year, we will expand our Airband Initiative to reach 25 states. In these states we will both pursue Airband infrastructure projects and expand the work we are doing to offer skills training in rural communities,” he said in a blog post. “We will also continue to advocate for public policies to accelerate the investment in TV white spaces technologies that are needed.”

A Multi-Pronged Approach

Unlike fiber or copper cables, Microsoft’s solution should be quick and cost-effective to implement. It makes use of 600 MHz frequencies TV broadcasters aren’t using to deliver wireless signals. It’s been negotiating deals with local authorities across Michigan, Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and California for the bands.

TV white space is particularly useful for rural areas because it’s able to penetrate well through foliage and other obstacles. It can combine with technologies like 4G and 5G to ensure that the U.S. has a wide coverage.

However, Smith says the 3 million metric isn’t just a stretch goal. The rollout is expected to expand from 16 to 25 states by this time next year. Microsoft is investing a lot of work and money to make this is a reality.

There’s still some concern about the company’s dominance in this, though. Critics question if it’s a good idea for Microsoft to be deciding which areas get broadband and when, rather than the government. Meanwhile, some broadcasters see the company as encroaching on their territory.